The Island That Cleanses
All Standard Disclaimers Apply: I do not own Avatar: The Last Airbender or anything related to it.
Northeastern Earth Kingdom, Academy of Sciences
1 Year Later
Numerous party poppers were pulled and exploded all around the exclusive members only restaurant on the lower floor of the Academy of Sciences. Even though the dim light, Katara could see the confetti flying all over the place as co-workers, peers, and Academy patrons welcomed her back from her research trip.
The brown-haired woman laughed as a cone-shaped celebratory hat was put on her head by Aang while Toph blew whistles.
"Wow, what a way to end our first day of work back!" Katara laughed as she looked over her shoulder, at the other three researchers from her department that had joined her on the four month expedition.
They had already been given 'welcome back' cake when they arrived at work that morning and figured when the rest of the staff invited them for drinks at the restaurant and bar on site, it was going to be a small, casual thing with just their department. They didn't expect half the staff to show up, along with a good handful of Academy patrons.
"Did you think all you'd get is cake?" Aang beamed. "You guys returning is a huge deal! Practically all the universities we're working with have been clamoring to get at the research you guys did."
"I can't believe you found a new species of shrimp," Toph piped. Aang was leading them both by the hand, towards one of the booths in the corner. "You should've named it after yourself."
"As interesting as that would have been, I don't think I want to name a shrimp after me," Katara chuckled. She scooted into the booth after Toph and Aang. "You guys could've told me you were planning a party when we had lunch on Saturday."
"It wouldn't be a surprise if we just told you," Toph snorted. "Aang, order us some bottle service."
"I don't think they have bottle service -"
"Tell them Toph Bei Fong wants bottle service!" the heiress demanded. She pressed a bill into his hand. "Make it happen, Twinkle Toes."
He looked down at the large billfold in his hand and sighed before getting up. "I'll ask," he conceded.
"I want seaweed noodles, Aang!" Katara called after him. "You know the ones!" She saw his bald head nod as he disappeared into the crowd. Katara let out a heavy breath. "It's good to be back on solid ground."
"Four months on a boat," Toph snorted. "How can you stand it?"
"It was a good sized-boat and we went out on glaciers and icebergs a lot," Katara replied.
"They're just frozen water on non-frozen water," the blind woman insisted. "Weren't you bored?"
"With all that stuff we had to do?" Katara sighed. "Hardly. The crew was scarce, so we did a lot of the work ourselves, as well as our data gathering. We also had cooking duty. By the way, Dr. Hu is a terrible cook."
"Yeah, but the man's a genius," Toph pointed out. "By the way, I heard a rumor while we've been waiting around." Katara raised a brow. "I heard Poofy-hair is here and he's looking for you."
If Katara didn't know any better, she would've thought that Jet was looking for her to complete some sort of show down; to brawl in the middle of her welcome home party. However, considering the circumstances she left him in four months earlier, it was probably in regards to something else. Something she wished was a fight.
A year earlier, she had returned to work from an almost dream-like visit to Ember Island. Had Aang and Toph not been there and stood as reminders of her time on the island, with a real-life prince, she would've thought she had just hallucinated the whole thing while getting over her break-up with Jet.
As she had expected, everyone at the Academy knew about the newspaper article and were curious. Whether they came up to her directly and asked about her relationship with Prince Zuko or not, she could tell. Getting lunch, she would receive curious looks. While crossing the Academy to get to the specimen hall, people had taken a double take.
She went with the explanation that made everything seem platonic; she was acquainted with the prince through her brother, a photographer, and had just happened to be there to help him when he was saving a child's life. She made a point to point out that there weren't any other photos of them taken together, so that would've been kind of weird.
"It wasn't like we were attached at the hip; he just showed me around once," she had explained. Evidence was on her side, considering she had spent most of her time hidden in the Royal Family's villa - sometimes, actually attached at the hip to Zuko. Not that anyone needed to know. Within a month or two, everyone's curiosity had faded and at most, people were disappointed that acquaintances were all they were or envious that she actually got to meet 'that hot scarred prince'.
Except, one person - the person she had least looked forward into running into again, had saw her return as an opportunity to rekindle their 'romance'.
The first day, she had run into him at lunch. Sauve and smiling, as always, the charismatic marketing department golden boy had placed his tray in front of hers. It couldn't have been a coincidence that he had worn that shirt she had complimented him on before.
"Hey! Welcome back!" Jet had greeted, as if they were old friends and he didn't dump her on a busy sidewalk on her birthday. "Heard you went to Ember Island. How was it?"
She had lost all drive to eat and nearly threw her soup spoon at him. However, Katara knew she had to work with him and took a deep breath. She gave him a small, forced smile and answered that it was good and she got to do a lot of snorkeling.
It didn't take long for Jet to lead the conversation into the topic of his desire, as he was prone to doing. "I saw that article in the Fire Nation Times. Was it serious? I thought - nah, that couldn't be my Kat. She's too down to earth to hook up with some uptight royal."
She wasn't using her chopsticks, she probably would've stabbed him in the hand. She didn't need to hear such audacious words from him. First, he seemed to doubt that she could even rub elbows with someone famous. Second, 'his Kat'. She was not his. And as far as she was considered, she would never be his.
Her heart still ached from parting with the man she had fallen in love with so fast and hard, it was almost unbelievable. She still longed for him; to wake up beside him or walk to her window and see him jogging outside, half-naked and glistening with sweat. She missed how he would call her for meals and share his food with her. She missed his voice, his smile, his attempts to be funny or charming. She missed sleepless, pleasure-filled nights and exhausting, adventurous days.
Katara missed Zuko - the man who told her he loved her, showed her he did, and made her feel more love in two weeks than any of her past relationshipd combined. And Jet had the gall to imply that it wasn't possible because Katara wasn't good enough.
"I have to get back," Katara had told him that first day. She picked up her tray without any further explanation, placed it on a rack, and then retreated to her lab, where Jet had no reason to go.
For the next week, it was a similar situation. She would be eating lunch and Jet would somehow snake his way to her table, trying to have small talk. When he started to mention that they should go out again for some coffee, Katara had begun to bring her own lunch and eat at the lab's mini-kitchen.
Jet's tactics then changed. He began going out with other women; women whom he knew Katara knew and would hear about. Song from the student outreach program. Jin from event planning. Even some younger researchers who worked in the same lab had succombed to the jerk.
As obvious to as Jet's attempts were to her and the rest of her department and Marketing, Katara didn't give him the time of the day. If they had a meeting together, she would go with a group and sit between her colleagues. Everything was kept short and formal. If it didn't have to do with work, there was no reason to talk.
Then, when Avatar Day came around in the late fall, Jet had cornered her at an office party.
"You've been avoiding me," he had told her.
"Good, you understand," she had spat out. "Please respect my decision and leave me alone."
He had sighed, as if she were the one being difficult. "Katara, won't you at least give me a chance to explain myself?" he had asked. "I really am sorry we broke up."
She had held her tongue. He hadn't sounded sorry, if she remembered correctly. "But we did," she had reminded him coldly. Her eyes narrowed as she stood up straight and met his eyes. "You were the one who broke up with me, Jet. It's been several months since then - why are you still bothering me?"
"I want us to stay friends," he had told her.
Katara had almost laughed. "Friends?" she had scoffed. "Both you and I know that you had planned to break up with me for some time and that the reason you gave me was the biggest pile of bullshit I've ever heard. You think after that, I'd like to stay friends with a self-absorbed, insensitive oaf? Are you crazy?"
She had seen his face momentarily flash with anger, but to his credit, he had stayed calm. He had lifted his chin and took a step back. "I just don't see why we still can't be friends."
"Jet," she had told him firmly. "It's over. Let's just move on." She had shoved past him and he turned around.
"You've changed since you got back," he had hissed. "Makes me wonder if you really did hook up with that prince. You sure got over me pretty quick."
She had stopped in mid-step. She had taken a deep breath, but was unable to hold back her temper. In the waning moments of their office party, when most people were already drunk and starting to leave, she had stormed back to Jet and met him square in the eye.
"What if I did?" Katara had asked sharply. "What if I did 'hook up' with Prince Zuko? What if I spent more time with him in the two weeks I was gone that I did with you in the four months we dated? What if I let him do more to me in that short amount of time than you ever could in a lifetime? What would that change, Jet? I'm still here, aren't I? I'm still working my ass off in the lab. I'm still doing exactly what I did before I left. The only difference is that now, I'm not dating you and dating you is a mistake I won't repeat," she had growled. "You broke up with me and I don't want to go back. Deal with it."
After that, she hadn't heard from Jet for another few months. She knew he was dating some girl who worked at the aquarium, but that was it. She made no move to find out more.
Maybe if she hadn't gone to Ember Island, she would've cared more, but things had changed. Every night, she had gone to bed, looking at a picture on her camera with her and a handsome man floating in the water together. No, her attention wasn't on her ex-boyfriend. It was on the man she still loved.
She found herself subscribing to daily feeds on the Fire Nation Royal Family. Every morning, she would check the online news for news on what he was doing. He was a high profile man; it was quite easy to keep track of him.
Katara sometimes worried. Was he eating enough? In one picture he looked so tired. Was he getting enough rest? Perhaps flying all over for environmental summits wasn't such a good idea for him, but Zuko was pulling it off. She wouldn't expect anything less of him. He worked hard for his nation and she was proud of him for doing so.
But she still missed him. When news hit that he was in the Earth Kingdom, she had tried to get time off to attend the conference on territorial fishing rights, but stopped herself. Why was she going out of her way to try to see him? Instead, she had to make due with a streaming video on the conference.
Oh, how she loved his voice when he was serious and concentrated. So focused and strong... She thanked the spirits that Aang, Toph, and Sokka didn't know the extent of her 'internet stalking'. They would've told her it was pathetic - and she would've agreed. Aang and Toph would've just encouraged her to contact Zuko, and even Sokka had told her that Iroh welcomed her back at any time and give her the private number of the abdicated Fire Lord.
However, Katara was determined not to get in Zuko's way and distract him. Instead, she distracted herself. She spent more time in the lab and doing work at home than she did before she left, just to keep her mind occupied. She re-took up Tai Chi to try to calm herself, but even as she did it, she wondered how she'd fare against Zuko's Kung Fu. He'd probably dominate her and the thought was far too pleasing.
Regardless, her hard work paid off and before she knew it, she was preparing for her research trip. Aang and Toph had come to help her pack; or rather she and Aang packed while Toph sat around, asking if she could throw parties at her condo while she was gone.
At their going-away party, Jet had approached her once more.
"Katara, I'm being honest here," he had said. It had unnerved her, as he had actually looked and sounded like he meant it. "I'm sorry we broke up. I'm sorry I did that to you. I...was worried, okay? Not about marrying you, but about marriage in general. I panicked," he had admitted. "I don't want to break up, Katara," he had said, looking more sincere that she could ever remember him looking. "I know you're leaving, but please," he had begged. "Please reconsider. I've changed, Katara. I swear! I just...I'm begging you to give me another chance."
He had asked her to mull over his request while she was on her trip. He didn't expect an answer right away, but just asked her to give it some thought. Katara had been caught off guard. She'd never seen Jet beg for anything.
"I'll...I'll think about it," was all she had been able to say before moving past him, confused at what had just happened.
"I thought you told him to get lost," Toph piped, drawing Katara out of her daze. The blue-eyed woman blinked and sat up straight. She shook her head slightly and lowered her eyes.
"We talked just before I left," she admitted. "He begged me to reconsider a relationship with him."
"And you told him to shove it, right?" Toph asserted. She was met with uneasy silence. "Right?" she stressed.
Katara bit her lower lip. "I said I'd think about it."
"Wha...!?" Toph's hand shot to the side of find Katara's arm. When she did, she backhanded the older woman's forearm. "Have you lost your mind!?" she demanded. "Are you forgetting what that idiot did!?"
"Of course not! I was just...caught off guard," Katara groaned as she ran her hands through her hair. "I didn't know what else to say! It just came out!"
"Well, you're not seriously thinking about getting back with him, are you?" Toph demanded. "Tell me you're not!"
"How can I!?" Katara demanded, her raised voice still lost in the loud atmosphere of the restaurant. "When I'm in love with Zuko!"
Toph's light colored eyes widened. She drew her arm back and lowered it beside her. "Still?" she asked.
Katara wasn't sure if she should laugh or not. "There is no 'still'," she answered in a pained voice as she lowered her eyes. "I haven't seen him in person in a year. We haven't spoken or communicated at all. All I know of him is that he's globe trotting for the Fire Nation," she admitted. It sounded so foolish after she had actually said it.
"Wow," Toph said quietly. She had known how distraught the other woman had been upon meeting up with her that morning, on the ferry landing on Ember Island. Katara was in tears, trying desperately to stop crying before she got out of the car.
Even when they had gotten back, Katara didn't want to talk about what had happened - only that they parted and would stay that way. She had great memories, Katara had assured them. She was happy to just have those.
As the months passed, she and Aang figured that Katara's feelings for the Fire Prince would subside. She had dove into work; they figured she was trying to get over it. All Katara did was talk about her research and the upcoming arctic voyage. She had seemed to avoid the royal topic at all times.
"I thought you said it wouldn't work," Toph pointed out. "That's why you ended it."
"It wouldn't," Katara laughed, almost bitterly. "And that's why I did end it, but the feelings don't die so easily." She looked at Toph. "He was wonderful, Toph. Even as we drove away and left him behind, I kept thinking 'I'll never meet a better man'."
Toph pursed her lips. "From the way you talk about it, it sounds like you won't."
Katara lowered her eyes and shook her head. "I'm an idiot, I know."
"Yeah, you are," Toph agreed easily. "You know, as much as I hate to admit it, you probably have a better chance with Poofy-hair. At least you guys are on the same continent."
Katara smiled sadly. She looked back up. "Maybe not for long," she admitted. Toph tilted her head to the side.
"What do you mean?"
"I was doing research and about a month in, I realized I can only get to Dr. Hu's level if I finish up my doctorate," Katara said. "Then, I'd be able to have more responsibility and have a bigger say in what happens and focus more on my research than on someone else's."
"So, you're going to go back to school? Ba Sing Se University?" Toph asked. "I can write you a recommendation."
Katara smiled. "Thanks, I'll let you know if I need it," she said. "Dr. Hu and Dr. Wei have written me recommendations and I've already sent in my applications."
Toph's eyes widened once more. "So you're thinking about other universities?"
"There is a chance I may not get accepted back to BSSU," Katara pointed out pragmatically. "So, I applied to Northern University, Eastern Air Women's College, and the Royal University, too. All four have top notch departments in my field."
Toph whistled. "When do you hear back?"
"There lies the problem," Katara admitted. "I've already been accepted and my credits are transferrable."
Katara chuckled, looking almost unbelieving of her situation. "All four."
"You got accepted to all four of the big four!?" a voice gasped. The two turned towards the voice and Katara saw Aang standing there, with a bottle in one hand and some glasses on the other.
"Hey, I don't smell seaweed noodles," Toph frowned. "Didn't you hear her?"
"I heard! The server will come by with some snacks and the noodles later, but did I hear you correctly?" Aang gasped as he scooted into his seat beside Toph. "You got accepted to all four universities?"
Katara nodded. "I had recommendations, test scores, grades, I have a solid foundation in practical experience and several articles and papers out," she said. "But I'm still surprised I got accepted into all four of them."
"Then which one are you going to?" Aang asked as he opened the bottle. "If you go to BSSU, you can still be connected to the Academy."
"No way," Toph cut him off. "She's going to Royal, aren't you Katara?"
"Royal," the dark-skinned woman repeated. To be honest, she hadn't decided yet. "I'm not sure."
"What do you mean you're not sure?" Toph demanded. She held out her hand expectantly and Aang placed her cup in her grasp. She took a sip of her drink before continuing. "Royal University is right next to the Fire Nation's capital. And you know who lives there."
Katara shook her head. "I'm not going to base my decision on that," she asserted. "I'm going to weigh what program is best for me. Ideally, it should be Northern, but you know how I feel about their politics there."
"I cannot believe what I'm hearing," Toph scowled. She held her empty glass forward and Aang automatically refilled it as he handed Katara her cup. "This is the chance of a lifetime for you to actually get close to him and you're not jumping on it? What is wrong with you?"
"I've been asking myself that all year...," Katara mumbled under her breath. "I want to make sure that the graduate program I'm getting into is the right one for me. I owe that to myself and to him."
"I still think you're crazy," Toph snorted.
"Royal University does have a very good program," Aang pointed out. "And with it's proximity to the South Pole, you'd be closer to home and have a chance to work with the waters in that area. I know that's something you've always wanted to go back to."
He had a point. Katara nodded. "Eastern Air works with the South Pole, too."
"I think it's a joint program, Katara," Aang replied thoughtfully. "Plus, there is a lot of sea trade that goes on there; you know how terrible ships are with pollution. You may be needed there."
"See," Toph pointed out. "It was meant to be. Maybe not for Princey and you, but for you and your second love - research."
Katara rolled her eyes. "I'll look into it."
"I'm just saying," Toph said. "From what Aang said and what I've heard, there really isn't anything more to keep you here. I mean, aside from us, of course, what else could keep you in the Earth Kingdom?"
"Katara," a male voice called out to her from the side and the trio turned towards it. Toph was already frowning, recognizing the voice easily as Aang looked upset and Katara seemingly readily herself for the worse. Jet gave her a small bow of his head to greet her before running his hands through his hair. "Do you have a moment?"
"You don't have to go, Katara," Aang told her in a quiet voice.
She held her hand up to calm him and Toph. "It's fine," she asserted. "I think I need to talk to him, anyway."
"Katara," Toph began only for the older woman to cut her off.
"It's fine," she repeated. Katara slid out of the booth. She met the man's gaze steadily. "Let's go."
It had been a few days since she had some alcohol at her welcome back party, but in all honestly, she could've gone for another round that day. She and Jet had a talk, in which she made it clear that she did not want to start seeing him again. They were too different and, frankly, she did not have those sort of feelings for him.
Jet had tried to argue on his behalf, insisting that if she gave him a chance, he could win her over. Katara had told him that it was over. He then grew angry and asked if there was someone else. Katara had met his eyes.
"There is someone else," she had told him matter-of-factly. "I'm sorry, Jet." She left him alone outside, on the patio, before she returned to Toph and Aang, who were eager to find out what happened. The next few days at work, she hadn't seen Jet, but heard he had gone on vacation.
As for her, every consecutive night after the party, after work, she was to meet with a representative from one of the four universities she was accepted to and she was tired.
It was clear that they wanted Katara to join their respective programs and had done everything from presenting her with the the assorted accolades regarding their university, department, or graduate program, to down right trying to bribe her with promises of not just scholarships, but lodging, and even a job at the said university.
The Northern University had tried to win her over by citing that her brother was an alumni. That was why she had gone to Northern first, right out of high school - because Sokka went there. However, she still didn't like the professional environment and its rampant nepotism. She was irritated to discover that several former classmates whom she did not get along with were in that graduate program. The only thing that kept her from outright rejecting them at dinner was that the man who had come to try to woo her into the program knew her grandfather and she didn't want to reflect badly on him.
Next was her undergraduate Alma Mater, Ba Sing Se University, which seemed to ride on the fact that she was "returning". While the environment was good, it wasn't perfect, and their track record was superb. They had an excellent reputation and an extensive network of labs she could fall into. The problem was that she didn't want to move back to the chaotic hustle and bustle of Ba Sing Se University, which was in one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
The night before, she had dinner with Eastern Air's alumni and Professor of Natural Sciences, Dr. Yang Chen. By far, the presentation was the most relaxed and informative. Details were explained clearly, and Katara found herself attracted to the environment in and around the university. Of course, while it still had 'Women's' in the name, it was a co-ed school. Aang had his undergraduate degree from there.
As of the moment, Katara was leaning more towards Eastern Air. There was even several positions should could apply to at it's sister school, Western Air, once she graduated.
However, she would not make her final decision until dinner with the alumni and representative from Royal University. Katara had gone back to her condo, changed into her 'interview' clothes - an actual suit rather than the more casual clothes she wore to work, and waited for a driver to pick her up.
They were having dinner at an expensive, exclusive restaurant frequented by Fire Nation visitors and she supposed it was fitting. At the designated time, she walked out of her condo complex and saw the suited driver holding up a sign with her name. She was greeted and took a seat in the back. Briefly, she wondered how Chit Sang was doing and wondered if he still drove Iroh around.
The ride to the restaurant didn't take too long and Katara took a deep breath as she exited the car and walked up the steps to the restaurant.
"Hello," she greeted the host. "I'm here for a dinner with the representative from the Fire Nation Royal University."
"Miss Katara," the man behind the podium greeted. "Of course, he is already expecting you. Please follow me." Katara nodded and clutched her bag under her arm as they wove through the graciously spaced out tables. Candles lit the room as servers silently moved around the quietly talking guests.
Everything about the place seemed fancy and Katara couldn't help but feel a bit out of place, even in her good interview suit. She rounded a corner and was led to a private room. The host knocked on the door. "Your Highness," he called out, causing Katara to stiffen immediately. "Your guest has arrived."
Her eyes were wide, her heart was racing. It couldn't have been him. Yes, he was an alumni, but a representative of the school? Why had they sent him? Did he know who he was coming to talk to.
Beads of sweat collected at her temples. She was not ready for this.
The host pushed open a door and stepped aside. Katara could barely feel herself walking through. She wasn't ready to face him.
"Ah, Katara," a male voice greeted. "It is good to see you again. I'm pleased you've taken an interest in our Ocean Sciences and Environmental Studies Graduate Program."
The door closed behind her and Katara's mouth hung open. "Prince Ozai?" The amount of disappointment she felt was unforeseen as, instead of the man she had expected, standing across the meeting room was a middle-aged man with a beard and an impeccably tailored suit.
The royal raised a brow and gave her a small nod of his head. "Yes," he acknowledged. "Were you expecting someone else?"
"No!" she gasped as her face heated up with embarrassment. What had she been expecting? She quickly straightened up and gave him a proper, respectful bow. "It is an honor to see you again, Your Highness. I was simply unaware that a member of your family was going to have the meeting with me," she rambled. "I did not know that you were an alumni of Royal."
"I'm also a board member at the university and received my second graduate degree in OSES," Ozai informed her. "The very program you applied, too."
She lifted her head, unable to hide her surprise. "I didn't know that, Your Highness."
"Clearly," Ozai said. He motioned for to take a seat and lifted a pointer pen from his pocket. He moved it to the projector on the ceiling above him. "Now, before dinner, I'd like to do a brief presentation on the program itself. I was told that you have also been interviewed and met with the other three of the 'big four' this week. Let me assure you, Katara, Royal University wants you with us."
Katara nodded and took a seat. She turned towards the lowered white screen across the room as Ozai dimmed the lights to begin the presentation. As odd as it was to have such a meeting with the man currently in line for the throne, she seemed to quickly forget about his rank and status as he went with his presentation.
Prince Ozai was clearly well-educated and very proud of the program. He answered all her questions with ease and as an hour passed, even helped her finalize a prospective program road map suited for her.
"We value hands-on experience, as well," Ozai concluded. "I, myself, spent a year on a research vessel in Southern Water Tribe waters while following fish migrations from the southern parts of the Fire Nation. It was a joint venture with both the Fire Nation government and the Southern Water Tribe called 'Project Dragonfish'."
Katara lifted her head from the booklet she was looking through and furrowed her brows. "My father was part of that project."
"Yes," Ozai nodded. "That is how we met. Hakoda and I go quite a ways back and we've both been very earnest in keeping the fishing waters healthy for both countries, as I'm sure you know." He paused and sat up straight in the chair across from her. "Of course, do not think that we are trying to lure you because of your father. You are highly recommended and would be a brilliant asset to the program. Royal University prides itself on its meritocracy."
Katara nodded her head and looked back at the booklet on lodgings for graduate students. "Yes, I've heard. Had I not been accepted into Ba Sing Se University while still an undergraduate, I would've applied to transfer into Royal from Northern."
"Now, I understand that choosing a school can be difficult and I do not want to rush your decision," Ozai told her. "I say this as both a representative of Royal and as person who was involved in OSES. I do, however, feel that our program, with its ability to be tailored to you, would be most beneficial. "
Katara released a heavy breath. "I have to admit, Your Highness, this is quite impressive."
"I'm pleased to hear that."
"I would still like another day or two to review my choices," Katara told him seriously. Ozai nodded and lifted up a hand.
"I understand," he acknowledged. "Now that the presentation is over, I will arrange for dinner to be brought in. I hope you do not mind," he said as he stood up and crossed the room to a small speaker by the wall. "Ursa has pre-selected the menu."
"I don't mind at all, Your Highness." Katara began gathering the booklets, paperwork, and pamphlets she had been given and arranging them neatly in her bag. She began to think of a few questions to discuss over dinner regarding the program and most certainly not about his son.
"Your Highness, Her Grace Princess Ursa has arrived for dinner," the host said through the door. Katara looked up, surprised. She supposed she shouldn't have been. From what she had seen of the couple, they probably wouldn't travel without the other.
The door opened and a lovely woman walked in, beaming. "Katara!" she greeted. "Welcome! How was the presentation?" Ursa beamed. "I hope it wasn't too boring."
"Ocean sciences is never boring, Ursa," Ozai corrected her calmly.
Katara stood up and bowed to the older woman before being engulfed in an embrace. "It was very interesting and quite convincing," Katara chuckled as she hugged the older woman back. "The tailored program is very allur...," her voice trailed off as she looked over Ursa's shoulder and saw another guest standing by the door, adjusting his tie. Katara's smile fell. "-ing..."
Her arms fell limply to her sides as she stared past the princess and at man in a dark suit, waiting patiently to be acknowledged. Katara swallowed nervously as she met his gaze. The two seemed to stand there, unmoving and completely oblivious to his parents. Ozai raised a brow and let out a cough.
Zuko blinked and quickly bowed. "Katara, it is good to see you again," he greeted formally.
Her blue eyes crinkled up. This wasn't expected. This caught her completely off guard and for the life of her, she couldn't figure out what to say. When she didn't answer, Zuko lifted his head and met her eyes once more.
She looked terrified and Zuko cursed his parents for dragging him with them to dinner. It was just dinner, his mother had said. He was in town, anyway. What was wrong with having dinner with his parents? His mother had come to personally pick him up from his hotel to the restaurant where his father was having a meeting.
He had no idea his meeting was with Katara.
"Zu...," she trailed off and gave herself a little shake before bowing her head. "Your Highness, Prince Zuko. Good evening." At the most, they were acquaintances now. She didn't expect him to sweep her up in his arms and he didn't expect her to come running into them.
He gave her a curt nod. "I was unaware that you would be joining us for dinner."
"Zuko!" his mother chastised. "Don't be rude! Of course Katara will be joining us. Your father just finished giving her a presentation to try to convince her to attend the graduate program at Royal."
He looked surprised. Gold eyes turned back to her and, for a moment, she could've sworn he looked hopeful. "You're going to Royal?"
Yes. "I'm considering it," she answered instead. "Your father made some excellent points. The cost, the program, research opportunities."
"As an alumni, I can assure you that everything you want will be at your fingertips," Zuko told her.
For some reason that made her blush. Did he mean everything including him? "It seems that way, yes," she answered.
Ursa looked around and clapped her hands together. "Well, since we're all here, let's have dinner, shall we?"
"Actually, Your Highnesses," Katara said as she looked away from Zuko. "I should really get back. It's getting late and I have things to do tomorrow, not to mention I need to review all this information," she offered with a slight laugh.
"Won't you at least join us for a small bit?" Ursa hoped. "You're already here."
Katara was already gathering her things. She tucked her bag filled with papers under her arm. "I'm sorry to have to leave so early, but I really should go," she repeated, avoiding Zuko's eyes. She couldn't stay in the room with him, especially with his parents, knowing how things were between them. She didn't want to spend the entire night tip-toeing around the subject of their relationship when merely seeing him was sending sparks through her body, reminding her of what she had left behind.
"I'll call for Jee to bring around the car to take you back," Ozai said. He looked away before his wife could give him a disapproving look. Katara bowed her head.
"Thank you, Your Highness," she said. She gathered her jacket over her bag and gave the family a formal bow. "I appreciate your time and invitation. Thank you for having me."
Her hand gripped her bag against her as she stood up straight and stepped around Zuko to get out of the room. She kept her eyes away from his as she made a beeline down the hall and through the main floor of the restaurant.
Even as she avoided him, she could still feel her flush spread through her body. How pathetic; she couldn't even handle being in the same room as him.
"Thank you for coming, Miss," the host said. Katara gave him a distracted nod before stepping outside. Just as she reached the steps, the car that picked her up pulled to the front. The gray-haired man who had been holding the sign with her name came out and opened the door for her.
"Thank you," Katara muttered as she quickly slipped inside. The door closed behind her. As Jee rounded the car and got back to the driver's seat, her passenger door suddenly swung open.
"Move," Zuko ordered. Her eyes went wide as her heart shot to her throat.
"Your Highness," Jee greeted. "Shall I drop you off at your hotel?"
"No," Zuko said as Katara dumbly moved to the other side of the back seat, clutching her bag and jacket against her like a safety blanket. "Take us to Katara's," the younger male royal instructed. "And close the partition," he added. Jee nodded and suddenly, a tinted, dark screen rose between them and the front of the car. Panic filled her. What was this? What was going on? Why did he come after her? He turned to look at her and narrowed his eyes. "We need to talk."
Katara was staring at him with terrified eyes, unsure what he was going to say. "What...about dinner?" she choked out. That sounded ridiculous considering the circumstances.
"I don't care about dinner," Zuko frowned. "Besides, you're the one who ran away."
"I didn't know you'd be there!"
"So you ran away because of me?" he countered sharply. He slumped back in his seat and ran a hand down his face. "Do you think I was prepared to see you, too? I didn't know you'd be there, either."
Katara lowered her eyes She placed her bag on her lap and turned her head away, looking out her window as they drifted into silence.
"Why did you come after me?" she said quietly. Zuko perked his head up.
"Why did you come after me?" she repeated as she turned to look at him. Her eyes crinkled up and she shook her head. "Why did you leave your dinner with your parents and come after -"
"I don't know!" Zuko exclaimed tiredly. "You ran out of that door and I...I just followed." He hadn't realized what he was doing until he suddenly found himself seated beside her, in a moving car. He closed his eyes and grit his teeth as he tilted his head back. "I haven't seen you in a year," he reminded her. "Can you blame me for wanting see you know that I have the chance?"
Her lips curled inward as she bit down on them. She shook her head. "I didn't think we'd meet again." She had been resigned to that.
Zuko let out a bittersweet laugh. "Do you know how many conferences and summits and meetings I went to this last year, hoping that you'd be at one of them?" he asked. "I went through rows of people at each event, praying that I'd see you." Her chest clenched.
"Why did you do that?" she choked out. "You know how tiring it is! You need to take better care of yourself! What if you get sick or the stress becomes too much!?"
"I would run around this globe a thousand times over," he asserted as her met her eyes. "If it meant I could see you one more time." Her lower lip trembled as her eyes began to water. He looked at her intently as he raised a hand and stroked the side of her face gently. "I missed you so much, Katara."
His warm, familiar hands touched her and she immediately leaned into them. She closed her eyes, allowing him to caress her face and wipe the corners of her eyes. She opened them and met his. "Zuko...I..."
"Your Highness, Miss Katara, we've arrived," a voice said through a speaker.
Katara's face fell as she looked up at the speaker, as if wondering why it had suddenly betrayed her. Across from her, Zuko glanced up briefly before looking back at her. He took a deep breath and slowly pulled his hand away.
"Thank you, Jee," Zuko said as he moved back to his seat. "I believe we may be done here," he added under his breath.
Katara heard a click and she jumped as her door opened. She turned her head and saw the older man standing there, waiting to let her out. She swallowed once more and gathered her belongings slowly. As she stepped out, the driver gave her a bow of his head.
"Have a good evening, Miss Katara."
"Thank you...," she muttered once more. She looked back over her shoulder, at the man who sat clenching his hands on his lap as the door closed. She turned her head away and circled the back of the car.
Zuko closed his eyes. For the millionth time since they parted, he asked himself what were they doing? All that effort and they couldn't even bring themselves to talk honestly.
The car began to move forward and Zuko let out a heavy breath. They didn't make it too far forward before the car jerked to a stop. Zuko was flung forward and he furrowed his brows, sending a glare at the tinted partition. "Jee -"
His door unlocked and suddenly, it was flung open. He turned his head towards the frantic looking woman still clutching her bag and jacket in her arms.
"Do you want to stay?" she asked, almost breathlessly. He could barely blink.
"Do you want to stay?" she repeated, sounding desperate. "With me..." One moment with him. That was all it took. One moment and a year of keeping her distance and pretending everything was okay simply vanished at the smallest spark he sent off in her.
He crinkled his eyes, trying not to get his hopes up too high. "For what? Coffee?"
"I don't care," she told him. Her shoulders slumped. "I just want you to stay," she whispered painfully.
His eyes searched hers, trying to find a reason why she was asking him to.
Zuko leaned upwards. His arms rose, one going around her wrist to hold her as the other cupped her face and moved it down to his just as his mouth sealed over hers, giving her his answer.
Katara eyes shut tight as her body seemed to immediately melt against him. How she missed the feeling he gave her. She gasped for air as they parted.
The prince pulled his head back, licking his lips as he gave her a look of agreement. He scooted out of the leather seat, barely glancing back. "Jee, tell my parents I'm not having dinner tonight."
"Yes, Your Highness," the man seemed to try to hide his smile.
Zuko stepped out of the car, keeping one arm around Katara as he slammed the door behind him. She led him towards her condo, frantically digging through her purse to find her keys. She fumbled with the door, half distracted by the man standing beside her, kissing her neck and making her legs shake.
Somehow, they made it inside and Katara dropped her things on the floor. As she moved around him to lock her door, Zuko gasped.
"I just want to be clear," he said. "I'm not doing this so you'll come to Royal University," he told her gruffly as as he removed his coat and undid his tie.
"I know," Katara said as she kicked off her shoes. She grabbed his loose tie and dragged him down the hall, towards her bedroom. "But I'm still going to consider it a perk."
"I have a better picture," Zuko said as he reached for his phone. Katara was nestled against him, one arm over his body as he leaned back against her pillows and the headboard of the bed. He looked over at the digital photo frame on Katara's night stand and watched the photos alternate as she basked in the afterglow beside him.
"When did you take a picture of us, other than when we went snorkeling?" Katara asked as she tilted her head to the side to look at him.
"My mother took the picture." He held out his phone and showed her a photograph of the two of them in Fire Nation traditional island wear.
"Oh...at the villa," Katara smiled. "I like that one. Send it to me."
He leaned down and kissed the top of her head. "Sure, anything you want," he told her. He moved his fingers across the phone before placing it on the stand on his side of the bed and adjusting his position so he could lay beside her, facing her.
Katara rested against a pillow and frowned. "When do you have to go?"
He released a heavy breath. "I have a flight to the Northern Air temple tonight," he admitted. "Another conference."
She forced a smile, though it came out strained. She should've known it was too good to last. "Don't work too hard," she said as she rubbed his arm affectionately. "I wish you could stay longer."
Zuko paused for a moment, thinking before he spoke again. "The conference there is done in three days. I was headed back to the Fire Nation afterwards, but if you're alright with it," he hesitated. "May I come back here instead?"
Her eyes went wide. She looked away and pushed herself into a seated position. The severity of the situation seemed to finally reach her. After a year without any contact, they finally saw each other and the first, second, and third thing they did was sleep together. Granted, they missed each other greatly, but where was this going?
"You don't want me to come back," Zuko said quietly. He lowered his eyes, unable to help but feel disappointed. "I see. So this was a one time thing."
Katara snapped her head in his direction and frowned. "I didn't say that!"
"You don't have to," Zuko sighed as he rolled over and lifted the blanket off his body. He slid his legs off the side of the bed and sat up. "It's my fault for hoping. I didn't mean to upset you by implying that this mean something more."
"You didn't upset me," Katara frowned. He rose to his feet. "Zuko!"
"What?" he frowned as he turned around and faced. "You asked me to stay and I did. I should've figured it was for a short amount of time."
Katara crinkled her eyes and ran her hands through her head. "I don't know what to do!" she shouted as she looked down at the bed. "It was hard, Zuko. So hard, without you and knowing that I left believing it was for the best. I kept telling himself that I had to keep myself away. I didn't ask anyone about you, I avoided all those conferences and summits I had been invited to - all because I didn't want to see you in person."
"Why?" he demanded. "If we crossed paths, there is no guarantee that it would've ended up like this -"
"But it did!" Katara snapped as she turned to look at him. "I left dinner because I didn't know what do around you. How could stand to be around me after we left on such terms? I didn't know what to do or what to say!"
"So you left?" he scoffed.
"You followed me!" she countered angrily.
"Because I missed you!" Zuko spat out, as if it were obvious. "Do you think that I'd stop loving you right when you left? After a day? A week? A month? A year?" He almost laughed at the absurdity of it. "I saw my chance to be with you again and I took it. When you came back and opened my door, asking me to stay, can you honestly blame me for getting my hopes up and thinking that maybe you loved me enough and that the circumstances were more considerate this time to pursue a relationship with me?"
She couldn't. Katara grit her teeth. "I left you," she repeated slowly. She lifted her eyes and met his face. "I hurt you. Why do you want to stay with me?"
He stared at her, dumbfounded at how stubborn she was being. "Do you love me," he demanded more so than asked. Katara knew the answer. She knew that he knew the answer. Zuko took a deep breath and released it. "Do you love me, Katara!?" he repeated, loudly.
"Yes!" she answered. "You know I do!"
"Then what is the problem?" he asked. "Is it our careers?" he asked as he circled the bed and knelt down beside her. "Is it your studies? Is it the attention you'll get because you're involved with me? Tell me," he pleaded as he looked up at her. "You can't torture me by pretending this won't work when you haven't given me reason to believe it won't!"
"Zuko, I want to finish school," Katara said in a low voice. "I want to continue my studies and then continue doing research."
"I know. I support that decision."
"And you'll be busy doing work for your family and the Fire Nation," she pointed out.
"Are you saying I won't have time for you?" he asked, concerned. He shook his head.
"What if we don't have time for each other? What if our schedules just don't work and we end up as one of those couples who are just together in name only? We won't see each other, we'll drift apart, what if we start to see the other as burden?" she asked tearfully.
"And what if we won't?" Zuko asked simply. "Generations of my family have managed before, Katara. It is possible, I know it is. But we can't do anything if you don't want to," he told her gently.
Katara bit her lower lip. "I love you so much," she choked out. "I don't want what I have with you to end up badly."
He furrowed his brows and leaned upwards, wrapping his arms around her body and bringing her closer. "Little by little, alright?" he told her as he cradled her against him and stroked the back of her head. "All I ask is that you give it a chance. You won't be alone in this, Katara. I'll try, as well, to make this work."
She nodded her head. "I want to try," she asserted as she wiped at her eyes. "I want to at least see if it can work. Ending it was too hard, Zuko...it was too difficult. Not knowing was too difficult."
"I know," he told her as he brushed her hair back. "I'll spend the rest of today with you and as soon as I get back for the conference, I'll come back here, okay?"
Katara smiled. She nodded her head, causing him to smile back. "Okay," she agreed. "You can help me finalize my paper work."
He raised a brow. "You decided already?"
"Yeah," she said. "Royal University." He was unable to stop himself from smiling. She let out a small chuckle. "But if anyone asks, you had nothing to do with it."
Fire Nation Summer Palace, Outside of the Capital City
Two and a half years later.
"...wearing traditional Fire Nation robes with a modern flare, designed by Madame Wong, Princess Ursa's personal favorite designer," the television announcer said. "The Duchess of Shu Jing was also wearing a traditional Water Tribe betrothal necklace gifted to her by the Duke of Shu Jing upon their engagement a year earlier. The red stone is embedded with a royal gold flame, matching the pin in the Duchess's hair."
Zuko stepped out of the bathroom, rubbing his hair with a towel as he heard the television blaring. He looked towards the bed. Katara was in a loose t-shirt and underwear, sitting on the foot of their wedding bed, watching the replayed coverage of their wedding. He crinkled his eyes.
"Why are you watching that?" he asked as the announcer described the formal attire he had been wearing. "You were there twelve hours ago."
"I know," his new wife acknowledged, still watching the flat screen, mesmerized at the sight of their wedding replayed. "It's so surreal...I can't believe all that happened."
Zuko snorted. While neck deep in her last year of graduate school at Royal University, Katara had happily agreed to hand over all formal wedding arrangements to her mother-in-law, mother, and Azula, who had seemed oddly enthusiastic at the prospect of helping. Royal planners had gone through the ceremony, but the personal touches, such as Katara's dress and food and music, were always run past the student before they were confirmed.
His father had been insistent that Katara be given time to focus on her school, having high hopes for her to join one of the ministries when she graduated. As such, the bulk of wedding stress had been placed on the unassuming groom. Twice, he had asked Katara if they could just elope.
While Katara had seen the main courtyard of the Fire Nation Imperial Palace in the heart of the capital city decorated and prepared for their wedding, he supposed it did seem almost dream-like when it had actually happened. All five Fire Sages were there, Spiritual Elders from her tribe had been called in, then there were the far-too-many aspects of their ceremony that they had to go through.
All Zuko could think was that at the end of the night, he would finally get to sleep with Katara again, after a month of being forced to move out of their shared flat because his mother felt it was necessary, for some reason.
"Wow...look at my hair!" Katara giggled as she pointed at the television. "I didn't think I had that much!" He glanced at the screen. Her hair had been styled into a traditional wedding braid and bun, adorned with various pins and the flame pin he had given her. "My makeup is amazing, though..."
"I'm glad you're enjoying it," Zuko rolled his eyes. He tossed his towel over the back of a chair and moved towards the bed to watch a bit with her. He glanced at her current attire and smiled a bit. Perhaps most brides would've dressed in fancy lace and some sort of unnecessary lingerie, but not Katara. She was back to her t-shirt and panties for bed, just like every night. He liked it better that way, though; the clothes were easy to remove.
"Now officially styled the Duke and Duchess of Shu Jing, the two are said to spend the rest of the week at the Summer Palace before flying to the Northern Water Tribe, where they will visit a spiritual oasis, as is tradition for Water Tribe newlyweds. Duchess Katara herself is descended from the Tui Clan of the Northern Water Tribe, a noble family that can trace its lineage further than that of the current Fire Nation Royal Family. Her paternal grandmother was the last member of the Tui Clan before leaving. Duchess Katara herself was born a commoner to the Southern Water Tribe's chieftain family. While considered equals with their Northern counterpart, they are not of royal descent."
"I can't believe they found out about Gran-Gran's family," Katara muttered. "I mean, she never talks about them. I bet Grandpa said something."
"Uh-huh," Zuko said as he laid across the bed and yawned. It felt good to relax after such a stressing day.
"Ooh...look at you, Mr. Prince," Katara grinned as she looked over her shoulder at him. "Don't you look quite dashing in your formal robes..."
He raised a brow and followed her eyes to the screen. "You really like them?"
"You look so regal and commanding," Katara smirked. She lickered her lips. Yes, just seeing him in them made her tingle and throughout the ceremony, part of her had wondered if there was some sort of room they could run off to for a brief moment before the long, busy reception.
Zuko sat up. "If I put them on again, will you finally pay attention to me?"
A muffled snort-laugh escaped her lips and she looked over at him. "We just finished the shower," she reminded him as she fell back beside him.
"They made me leave you alone for a month," Zuko pointed out. "Do you know how hard that was? I never want to do that again."
"Hmmm, yeah," she said as she tilted her head up and kissed his jawline. Her hand rose and rested over his bare chest. "It's not the same watching you through a computer screen. The lighting in your room is terrible."
"It didn't help that you just laughed," he grumbled before he turned his head away in a pout.
She laughed and rolled over him, straddling his hips as she sat up. "Well, Duke of Shu Jing, shall I make it up to you?"
He shrugged and looked away a bit. "I don't know...you have been ignoring me for quite some time," he pointed out. "I would think that if the real person is in bed with you, you'd pay more attention to him than on his image on a screen."
Katara wrinkled her nose and looked back at the television. "It's just fascinating to watch it all...It's like a movie. It's different when you're the one in the spotlight."
"Speaking of spotlight," he said as he reached up and stroked her hair. "The media hasn't been too bad lately, have they?"
She smiled and shook her head. In the two and a half years since that fateful night they met at a dinner, which didn't even happen, she had grown somewhat used to the attention she received as Prince Zuko's girlfriend. Luckily, though, it seemed that while at Royal University, she had a good amount of privacy. Most of it was spent with peers, anyway, and they didn't care so much.
"No, they haven't."
"You know that now you're a royal, you'll be in the spotlight more often," he pointed out. Katara sighed.
"Maybe, but Lu Ten is officially seeing that Earth Kingdom business woman, June," Katara pointed out.
Zuko snorted. "Yeah...what a pair..."
"I think they make a nice couple," Katara smiled. "Anyway, the spotlight will move on to her and she can take it better than I can."
"But back to us," he said as his hands rested on her thighs. "Tired?" She looked sheepish, but nodded.
"It was a long day."
"I know," he said. He rolled over, allowing Katara to tumble back onto the bed. "Alright. Turn off the television and go to sleep."
"But I want to watch us...," Katara whined. He raised a brow. "You were distracting during the fireworks!" she reminded him. "You couldn't keep your hands to yourself for just twenty minutes?"
"No one was looking," he grinned. "And you didn't let go."
He instigated it, but she made him finish. She had welcomed it and when his hand had moved, she grabbed it and kept it under her robes. After the fireworks, she had been flushed and panting after a quick orgasm and Zuko had pretended nothing was amiss. He merely licked his fingers, citing that he spilled some sauce on them.
"Still," she blushed, still unable to believe that in the middle of their wedding reception, she made him do that to her. "I want to finish the program."
"I'm sure you can get it on a DVD in a week," he rolled his eyes. He reached for the remote and turned the television off. Katara lumbered into her spot on the bed and sprawled out, barely giving him room to lay down.
"Are you sure you're okay for tonight?' she asked as she rolled on to her side. Zuko took his space beside her and tugged their blanket up.
"Yes," he nodded as he looked at her. He reached over to his side of the bed to dim and turn off the bedroom lights.
"It has been a month, you know."
"You make it sound like I can't survive without having you for even a few days," he snorted.
"Who was the one who nearly ripped off all my nice formal robes the second we got through that door?"
"It was hot, I wanted to relieve you of the layers," he shrugged.
She raised an eyebrow. "So the shower sex was to cool me down, too?"
"It certainly relaxed me," he said coolly as he raised his arms over his head and folded them behind it. "My lovely wife, naked, pressed against the cold, wet marble with water sliding down her smooth, supple brown skin. Your breathless, panting voice. That tight, hot -"
"I was there, you don't need to repeat it," Katara grumbled as she flushed. "If you're done for the night, I am, too. Good-night, Zuko."
He chuckled. "Good-night, Katara." He wrapped his arm around her and kissed the top of her head. "Oh, but you may want to get up early tomorrow."
"Why?" she asked as she closed her eyes.
"I'm going jogging," he said. "And I know how much you like the view."
Azula Writes Romance Novels - A Brief Excerpt From Her Royal Highness's "Novels"
He watched her chest rise and fall with labored breaths as she laid on the hard, stone table. Her back was arched, breasts bare and arms tied above her head securely. A blindfold was over her eyes. Her slender ankles were tied apart, on opposite ends of the stone stab. Her tender, soft flesh that his hands itched to memorize were swollen and dark where she was bound.
His pale hand rested on her quivering thigh and a sharp breath escaped her lips through her gag. He was far overdressed, still in his armor and with a sword at his side.
"When you said you'd grant me my wish," he said in a low voice as he bent down and placed a soft kiss on her stomach. She shuddered at his touch. "I didn't imagine this was the wish you choose.." He opened his mouth and ran his tongue from her navel to the tip of one of her breasts. "I didn't know you had it in you, Water Fairy."
He smiled to himself as one hand grasped her gag tightly and pulled it down, past her chin. She let out a gasp of air.
"You said you wanted to try something different, Nobleman," she told him. "Isn't this what you wished for?"
His hand slid down her body and over the dark hairs at her apex before sliding slowly between her legs. "Perhaps," he admitted as she let out a moan. She tried to close her legs, but the restraints kept them apart, giving him room to taunt and tug at her. "I wish you wouldn't call me Nobleman. I have a name."
"Once we complete this, my debt to you is repaid," she told him proudly. "I have no need of your name~!" Her voice rose into a near scream of pleasure as he inserted the handle of his sword into her.
"You know my name," he told her dangerously. "And you will cry it out in pleasure." He grasped the sheathed blade and turned the sword, making the female figure on the stone table scream and shudder.
"You know my name, Water Fairy," he growled as he began to thrust the hilt into her wet caverns. "Say it!"
"Zuko!" Katara yelled as he flipped on the bathroom light. She looked up with a glare from where she was laying in a tub full of bubbles, her hair in a bun as she read the latest romance novel from her favorite smut peddling author on a tablet. "What are you doing home so early?"
Zuko glanced around. Scented candles lined their large bathroom. Petals of flowers were scattered over the bubbles.
"What are you doing? It's three in the afternoon. Why are you taking a bath in the dark?" he asked.
"I just finished my thesis presentation and I wanted to relax," she frowned. "Now turn off the lights so I can finish this!" she said as she looked back at her tablet. "It's just getting to the good part."
"What are you reading?" he asked.
Katara froze. "...An analysis of zooplankton levels as changed from the last ice age," she replied. Her husband narrowed his eyes.
"You're reading smut again, aren't you?" he deduced.
"I'm not!" she insisted. He rolled his eyes.
"Well, when you want to live it instead of read it, I'll be in the kitchen having some tea," he told her calmly. He turned off the lights and casually walked out the door. Katara narrowed her eyes.
"Damn you, Zuko..." Scowling, she blew out her candles and put her tablet on a small teak table beside the tub before getting out. She grabbed her robe and snatched her phone from the counter.
She quickly called a number and held the phone in front of her mouth.
"I'm having my nails done, so make it quick," Azula's voice ordered from the other line.
"I'll have to get back to you on your book," Katara replied as she tied her robe with one hand and began to walk out of her bedroom. "I'm only part way through."
Azula sighed. "If you're not going to tell me what you think in a proper manner, I'll just send it to your mother."
"I'll get back to you!" Katara insisted as she walked down the stairs. She rounded the corner and could see Zuko in the kitchen.
"May I ask what exactly is holding your review? You begged for the book since you just finished your thesis and wanted to relax," Azula reminded her.
Katara stepped into the kitchen, where her husband was leaning against the counter, waiting for her. Katara lowered the phone. "Something just came up."
"Katara?" Azula called over the phone. Katara slid her finger across the screen and hung up. Azula glared at the phone. "Well, she was of no help."
"So what are you going to title your book?" a beautiful, older woman asked beside her. Azula's cousin's fiance was having a spa day with her.
Azula sighed and handed her phone to an attendant before laying back on her reclined chair. "I'm going to go with Uncle's suggestion."
"Yes," Azula nodded. "He said all you need is that one moment where there is a spark," she said. "Then, anything can happen."
A.N. - Thank you for your patience! It is finally done! I'm sorry it dragged on for so long, but thank you for sticking with it and giving me your time to read this. I so sorry for the terrible, random "adult situations". Sometimes, I was just like "let's see where this can go"... And then it ended up weird. As for the Academy of Sciences, I actually based it off the California Academy of Sciences (In San Francisco), with it's restaurant aquarium and what not.
Anyway, many, many thanks for joining me and I hope you had a great Zutara Week! Feel free to send me any questions comments or concerns. If you want an answer, try to leave your contact!
Now, I'm going back to working on my own original fiction ("The Novel"), working on convention related things, and updating my travel blog, as well as working on my collab - "The Brothers of Ba Sing Se" - a Bromance. Take care and much love, everyone!